Chapter XXI. The Open Switch

Meanwhile the work of electrifying another division of the Hendrickton & Pas Alos Railroad had been pushed to completion. As Mr. Bartholomew had in the first place stated, the road controlled water rights in the hills which would supply any number of electric power stations, and his enemies could not shut his road off from these waterfalls.

Tom had not warned his faithful servant, the giant Koku, to watch out for Andy O'Malley in particular; the inventor knew that the giant would be as cautious about any stranger as could be wished. But personally Tom was amazed that either O'Malley or some other henchman of the president of the Hendrickton & Western did not make an attempt to injure the electric locomotive.

"Perhaps Mr. Bartholomew's police are really of some good," said Ned Newton, when his chum mentioned his surprise on this point. "Has Koku seen nobody lurking about at night?"

"He certainly has not seen the man he calls 'Big Feet,'" chuckled Tom. "If he had spotted O'Malley, there certainly would have been an explosion."

"Tell you what," Ned said reflectively, "the longer Lewis keeps off you, the more suspicious I should be."

"You think he is a bad citizen, do you?"

"And then some, as the boys say out here," replied Ned. "I wouldn't trust that man any farther than I would a nest of hornets or a shedding rattlesnake."

"I am inclined to believe, with you, Ned, that Lewis is hatching up something and is keeping mighty whist about it. I sounded Mr. Bartholomew on the idea and he, too, is puzzled."

"I guess he knows that hombre," grumbled Ned.

"Mr. Bartholomew admits that several roads have sent representatives to make inquiries about my locomotive. They have got wind of it, and, after all, most railroads work in unison. What means progress for one is progress for all."

"That same rule does not seem to apply in the case of the H. & P. A. and the H. & W.," remarked Ned.

"No. They are out and out rivals. And Lewis and his gang have done this road dirt--no two ways about that. But when I am convinced that my locomotive has got all the speed and power contracted for, Mr. Bartholomew wants to invite a bunch of his brother railroaders to see the tests--to ride in the Hercules Three-Oughts-One, in fact."

"How about it? You going to agree? Suppose they have some inventive sharp along who will be able to steal some of your mechanical contrivances--in his head, I mean," and Ned seemed quite suddenly anxious.

"I had thought of that. But before the test I shall send my blueprints to Washington. Our patent attorney there has already filed tentative plans and applied for certain patents that I consider completed. Don't fret. I'll make it impossible for anybody to steal our patents legally."

"Yes! But illegally?"

"That we cannot help in any case, and you know it," Tom said. "If some road tries to build anything like the Hercules Three- Oughts-One for the first two years without arranging with the Swift Construction Company, you know that that railroad can be made to suffer in the courts, and you are the boy, Ned, to put them over the jumps for it."

"Sure," grumbled his chum. "It's always up to me to save the day."

"Exactly," chuckled Tom. "And in your character of life saver, do look out for anybody who looks suspicious hanging about the Hercules Three-Oughts-One. I'll take care of rival inventors. You and Koku keep your eyes peeled for the H. & W. spies. Especially for that Andy O'Malley. I feel that he will again show up. Maybe by 'the pricking of my thumb' as Macbeth's witch used to remark."

Every day save Sunday the electric locomotive had some kind of try-out. On a level track Tom was sure of his monster invention's qualities; but in the hills, at a distance from the Hendrickton terminal, it was another matter.

The grades were steep; but the road was well ballasted. There was plenty of power. He saw the Jandel locomotives hurry back and forth with the local trains and realized that this rival invention was by no means to be despised.

It was at about this time, too, that Mr. Damon appeared in Hendrickton. Early one forenoon, when Tom and Ned were preparing to take the Hercules 0001 out of the yard, and Koku was going to his lodgings to get a little sleep, Tom's eccentric friend came across the tracks, waving his cane at Tom.

"Bless my frogs and switch-targets!" he ejaculated, "I've walked a mile from that station to get here. Where are you going with that big contraption? How does it work? Does it make all the speed you want, Tom Swift? Bless my rails and sleepers!'

"We're going about a hundred miles out on the road to a good, stiff grade," Tom told him, having shaken hands in welcome. "If you want to, get aboard."

"They haven't blown you up yet, or otherwise wrecked the locomotive," remarked Mr. Damon, grinning broadly. "I'll have to write right back to your father--and to a certain young lady who shows a remarkable interest in your welfare--that you are all right."

"They should already be sure of that," laughed Tom. "Ned and I have kept the post-office department and the telegraph company very busy."

"They are waiting for my report," announced Mr. Damon, with confidence. "And I am waiting for yours. Tell me, Tom: Is the locomotive a success

"It's going to be," declared the inventor, with decision.

"Bless my trolley wires!" cried Mr. Damon, "I am glad to hear that. Then you will surely pull down the extra hundred thousand dollars?"

"I believe I shall fulfill every clause of the contract Mr. Bartholomew and I signed," said Tom.

"Then it's more than a success!" cried his friend. "You have invented another marvel, Tom Swift!"

"Marvel or not," rejoined Tom, "I believe that the Hercules Three-Oughts-One will top anything so far built in the way of electric locomotives."

"Hurrah!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my controller! But your father and Mary Nestor will be glad to hear that!"

Mr. Damon was quite as much interested in this invention as he always was in anything the young inventor worked upon. When he had once seen the Hercules 0001 work on an up-grade he was doubly enthusiastic. To his sanguine mind the locomotive was already completed. He could see no possibility of failure.

Tom, however, had to prove to his own satisfaction the success of every detail of his invention before he was willing to tell Mr. Bartholomew that he was ready for a public test. Mr. Damon, nor even Ned, could scarcely see the reason for Tom's caution.

Tom's favorite try-out grade was between Hammon and Cliff City. He could obtain a right of way order from the train dispatcher on that grade, sometimes of an hour's duration. He often snaked a load of gondolas or cattle cars up the grade, relieving both the puller and pusher steam locomotive. By this time the H. & P. A. system had stopped using the Jandel machines on any grades. They had proved their lack of power for such work

"But the Hercules Three-Oughts-One shows at every test that it has the kick," Mr. Damon cried.

In his enthusiasm he was out every day with Tom and Ned. And sometimes Koku remained in the cab during the trial runs as well.

On one such occasion Tom had drawn a heavy train over the mountain, taking it down the grade beyond Cliff City to Panboro in the farther valley. This was over a newly built stretch of the electrified road. The power station charged the trolley cables with an abundance of current, and the Hercules 0001 made a splendid trip.

"Bless my cuff-links!" ejaculated Mr. Damon, his rosy face one beaming smile. "You couldn't expect to do better than this. You save one locomotive on the haul, and you beat the schedule ten minutes, so that you had to lay by to get right of way into the yard here. Why linger longer, Tom?"

"I agree with Mr. Damon," Ned said. "It seems to work perfectly. And you have, I believe, established your required speed."

"Can't be too perfect," said the young inventor, smiling. "But I will tell Mr. Bartholomew when we get back that he can set his time for the big test whenever he pleases. I have already sent our patent attorney in Washington the final blueprints. Now, if nothing happens--"

"Bless my stickpin!" exclaimed Mr. Damon, "What can happen now that the locomotive is practically perfect?"

That question was answered in one way, and a most startling way, within the hour. Tom got right of way back over the mountain and pushed the electric locomotive up-grade at almost top speed. He drew no train on this occasion, and the speed made by the Hercules 0001 was really remarkable.

They topped the rise at Cliff City and got orders from the dispatcher to proceed on the time of Number Eighty-seven, which chanced to be late. With that release Tom might have made the entire distance of a hundred and ten miles to Hendrickton had it not been for the accident--the unexpected something that so often happens in the railroad business.

Tom was a careful driver; the chatter of Ned and Mr. Damon did not take the inventor's mind off his business for one instant. He was quite alert at his window, looking ahead, as Koku was at the open doorway of the cab.

Not a mile outside of Cliff City, and on this eastbound side of the right of way, was a long siding and a shipping point for timber. It was sometimes a busy point; but at this time of year there were no lumbermen about and no activities in the adjacent forest.

The Hercules 0001 came spinning along from the Cliff City yards, and Tom Swift gave scarcely a glance to the joint of the switch ahead. He had been over it so many times of late, and knew that it was always locked. The railroad did not even keep a man here at this season.

Suddenly Koku emitted a wild yell. He startled everybody else in the cab, as he flung his huge body more than half out of the doorway and prepared to jump--or so it seemed.

Ned shrieked a warning to the big fellow. Mr. Damon began to bless everything in sight. But it was Tom, quite as excited as his friends, who understood what Koku shouted:

"Big Feet! Big Feet! I see um Big Feet, Master!"

The next moment he threw himself from the rapidly moving locomotive. He might have been killed easily enough. But fortunately he landed feet first in the drift beside the rails, and remained upright as he slid down into the ditch.

Tom, glancing ahead again, saw the flash of a man in a checked Mackinaw running up through the open wood and away from the right of way. He could not be sure of Andy O'Malley's figure at that distance; but he could be pretty confident of Koku's identification.

And then, with a shock that gripped and almost paralyzed his mind, Tom saw again the switch ahead of the pilot of the Hercules 0001. The switch was open, and at the speed the electric locomotive had attained, if she did not jump the rails, it seemed scarcely possible that she could be stopped before hitting the bumper at the end of the siding!